A postcard showed up in the mail this week, inviting me to come to Frankfort on the 14th, for an I Love Mountains lobby day. The idea’s to encourage legislators to look favorably on, then vote for House Bill 83. It’s a simple piece of law: it requires mountaintop removal coal operations to stop filling Kentucky streams with dirt and rock from their operations and keep them on the work-site instead.
I’ve been to Frankfort while the legislature’s in session, and spending a day wandering around that confusion and chaos is not my idea of a good time. Gas is expensive, and Frankfort’s a good ways from my house. Besides, we heat with wood and spending a whole day buttonholing politicians means letting the fire go out.
So I came close to sending a "Thanks but no thanks" note to the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth who invited me to this lobbying hoo-rah. I even had the note drafted and sitting in my e-mail outbox, but two things changed my mind.
A friend in Pike County sent a clipping from a newspaper down his way. A coal company in Virginia wants to discharge unfiltered waste into the Levisa River, which feeds Fishtrap Lake. Fishtrap’s a primary source of drinking water in the Big Sandy region. The city governments of Pikeville KY and Grundy VA are hardly anti-coal entities, but even they’re saying this is a poor idea.
It’s not enough the coal companies insist on destroying the mountains and forests of eastern Kentucky, not enough they’ve filled fifteen hundred miles of Kentucky streams, now they want to poison the rivers. Les Vincent, chief engineer with the Virginia Department of Mines says not to worry, that "by the time it got to Kentucky the water would be in compliance" with local health standards.
When a government employee says "Don’t worry, we know what we’re doing," it’s time to take a hard, close look at what they’re up to.
West Virginia author Denise Giardina wrote one time of the coal industry, "They came in here and stole our land, killed a hundred thousand miners, polluted our streams, ground our roads into dust with their coal trucks, and they have the nerve to tell us that they should be able to destroy our mountains because they have created jobs. Well, the Mafia creates jobs, the Colombian drug cartel creates jobs, and pimps create jobs."
Regarding those jobs, Tuesday’s Herald-Leader carried a story about one coal company insisting they want to import Mexican workers who aren’t fluent in English because, as Sidney Coal Company president Charlie Bearse claims "It's common knowledge that the work ethic of the Eastern Kentucky worker has declined from where it once was."
Get that? Eastern Kentucky’s so riddled with dope-smoking, oxycotin- swilling lazy hillbillies the Sidney Coal Company wants to hang out "help wanted" signs in Juarez and Laredo.
A lot of folks are upset.
Not Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor, who often boasts about all the good paying jobs in the coal industry. He says "it really is just a matter of time" before imported non-English speaking workers are in the mines.
The coal industry isn’t even pretending to be Kentucky-friendly any more. They’re upfront with their plans to poison what streams they haven’t buried, in our faces with their contempt for the working people of Kentucky.
I dumped that e-mail about not going to Frankfort. I’ll be there all day Tuesday.
You’re invited too, by the way.
Show up early, find the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth people, and go talk to some politicians. Tell them how you feel about your streams, let them know not all Kentuckians are too drug-addled to understand what a fraud the coal industry is.